Suzanne Larson, Bob Pfaff, and Taylor Pfaff
A Sip Wines Winelight
I have a confession to make, and it might seem totally unrelated to wine, but ultimately it is not. My confession is: I did not watch the live action remake of The Lion King. Much as I love Beyonce, and as dreamy as Donald Glover is--yes, even his voice--I just couldn’t get on board with another Disney remake. Not after Aladdin (Robin Williams will forever be the Genie in my book). HOWEVER, this does not in any way reflect my true feelings about the Lion King, which I love. It’s definitely one of the deeper Disney movies; just listen to the words of the first song, which is also how I’ve chosen to introduce today’s featured winery, Left Coast Estate.
It’s the circle of life. (The ciiiiiiiiiiiiiiiircle…. The circle of liiiiiiiiiiiife.)
When I got off the phone with Mitch Graham, the wine club manager at Left Coast Estate vineyard and winery, this song lyric drowned out almost everything else in my head. Let me tell you about all the amazing things they’re doing to make Left Coast Estate as sustainable as possible, and I think you’ll see what I mean. Spoiler alert: Left Coast has created their own beautiful circle of sustainability, and it gives me some much-needed hope for our future.
Let’s start with some data points: Left Coast is positively rolling in certifications and initiatives. I can’t possibly get into all the details of what each of these names means, but trust me, it’s impressive. Check out all that Left Coast has going on:
- LIVE certified - One of the most stringent sustainability certifications for wine growers out there, focusing on winegrowers in the Pacific Northwest. Check.
- Salmon Safe certified - Reflecting implementation of farming practices and developments that protect water quality, maintain watershed health and restore habitat for Pacific Salmon. Check.
- Oak Accord - A voluntary conservation agreement by landowners in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to protect and restore the native, currently severely endangered white oak habitat on their property. Check.
- ¡SALUD! partnership - A non-profit collaboration between wineries and healthcare professionals that provides access to healthcare services for Oregon’s seasonal vineyard workers and their families.
- Pinot for the People - A personal initiative of Left Cost, offering one of their popular wines as "pay what you want" with a floor at half off retail; any proceeds above the floor price are donated to one of five nonprofits. The program will run through April of 2021 or until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available (whichever comes first). The five nonprofits are the NAACP (equal rights), Salud (see above), Ducks Unlimited (conservation of waterfowl habitats), The Sentencing Project (fair and effective criminal justice), and the Oregon Community Foundation (seeks to improve lives of all Oregonians through philanthropy).
Oh, and they adopted a highway, because why not?
If you saw Monday's Sip Wines blog post about sustainability, you already know what the theme of this week is. Left Coast is a perfect example of a full, holistic sustainable initiative--just take a look at that list above. You’ll see that their efforts encompass the environment, as well as social and environmental initiatives--and that’s what sustainability is really about, a recognition that nothing lives in a vacuum. Like I said in my blog post, it’s about balance, weighing all costs against all benefits and finding the most harmonious way forward.
Moving on from philosophy. Let’s talk about what Left Coast actually does.
The estate encompasses 500 acres, approximately 160 of which are planted with grapes. (What about all those other acres, you ask? We’ll get there.) Within those 160 acres, they have nine separate vineyards, almost all of which have different varietals of grapes. These grapes are grown as sustainably as possible, which means several things. First, no pesticides--but they still have to keep the bugs away, right? Instead of spraying chemicals, they find other ways to get rid of problematic insects, such as by planting flowers that attract “good bugs,” that prey on the destructive insect jerks. Second, there is minimal intervention in the grape growing. In one of the vineyards, literally the only thing they do in growing season is mow between the rows of vines; in the other vineyards, they have historically done light tilling of the soil (generally viewed as an important step in making soil optimal for plant growth), but recently their winemaker has been exploring a method of top soil preservation by planting certain wildflowers that bloom throughout the year and revive the soil, by feeding nutrients back into it.
On top of that, they have eight honey bee hives on the estate. The presence of bees near the vines helps the flowering process for the grapes--and also produces a LOT of honey (almost 100 lbs in some years) that is incorporated into Left Coast’s Queen Bee Bubbly. Yum. All remnants of the honey and wax are left outside, and the bees kindly come and take it back to the hive. Nothing wasted.
But wait. Just wait. That’s all during growing season. In the off season…
THERE ARE SO MANY SHEEP. Like, over 200 I think, and these are no ordinary sheep. Did you know that there are CONTRACT SHEEP out there in the world? Yes indeed, these sheep live elsewhere, but are brought to Left Coast as soon as the harvest is over and the vines are dormant. The sheep spend the winter, all the way until budding, just grazing in the vineyards. No mowing required! The sheep just eat, and chill, and eat some more, until they’ve finished an area, and then they’re quietly herded to the next area. Rinse and repeat until the grapes are ready to bud again. Then, adieu sheep! Until next year! Man, I got such a kick out of that when Mitch described the process. Apparently the sheep owners even bring a dog to herd them. Sadly, I did not obtain a picture of said dog. But here are the sheep.
Then we come to the lake (pictured above). Beautiful, tranquil, and entirely functional, the lake provides all of the water used to irrigate the grapes. No pumping in of external water for these grapes, it’s all straight from the Left Coast lake, run through a water-efficient drip irrigation system.
And don’t forget the sun, which powers 80% of the estate. Seriously. In 2008, Left Coast was awarded the largest USDA grant in Oregon to convert to solar. Actually, it used to be that 90% of the estate was run by solar energy, but they’ve grown so much that the percentage shrank a bit. Don’t worry, they’ve already created a five-year plan to increase their solar panel coverage and raise that number again.
Waste not, want not. It’s true for the bees, and it’s true for the grapes. After the grapes are harvested and brought in to start the winemaking process, there’s a lot of by-product leftover after the first round of de-stemming and fermentation. Left Coast takes every bit of that grape residue and composts it, along with organic waste from the kitchens and tasting room, and that compost eventually goes--you guessed it--right back into the soil to feed the grapes. See what I mean about a beautiful circle of sustainability?
In addition to the vineyards, Left Coast has large swaths of land devoted to other agricultural production, such as apples, pears, and hazelnuts. Those are scattered around the property, and of course their fruits are used in the winery’s kitchen. Still plenty of room left over after that for the gardens in which they grow other produce to serve in the kitchen, and some room for the chickens to hang out as well.
In fact, that doesn’t even begin to cover the remainder of their land, and this goes back to what I said before about the Oak Accord. The white oak is an extremely endangered species in Oregon, with only 3% of the original population left in the state. As a member of the Oak Accord, Left Coast Estate has pledged to preserve and protect the white oak population on their property. This is not insignificant: Left Coast has over 100 acres of white oak land which they have restored to true oak savannah, meaning that they have removed all invasive species (such as blackberry bushes) to allow the oak trees to flourish and repopulate. White oak trees can be hundreds of years old, so this is clearly a long game, but Left Coast is committed to restoring the natural habitat and allowing the oak trees to flourish. To that end, they host an annual “Run for the Oaks,” with all proceeds going towards restoration.
And also… the SHEEP. I just can’t get over it.
Sip Wines is beyond thrilled to partner with Left Coast Estate and bring their wines to you. Oh yeah, and their wines are GOOD. It’s a true win-win situation: you get to enjoy some delightful wine, while also supporting one of the most sustainable operations out there. And some sheep.